Joseph O’Neill

Criticism

Life
1878-1953 [also Seosamh Ó Néill; var. 1885, due to his own misinformation]; b. Tuam, Co. Galway, ed. UCG, Manchester, and Germany; spent childhood on Aran Islands where his father was an RIC-man; briefly attended Maynooth; briefly lectured in Maynooth; won studied under Kuno Meyer, and later John Strachan, on a scholarship secured by his translation of Cath Bóinde (Eriú 2, 1905); then under Rudolf Thurneysen at Freiburg; joined Irish Civil Service in 1908;
 
acted as Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education, 1923-1944, in which capacity he appointed Yeats as a school inspector; Wind from the North (1934), won Harmonsworth Prize; retired prematurely, and spent some years in increasing unhappiness, especially following an abortive move to the South of France. His Land Under England, was a British best-seller (1935); portrait in oil by Sarah Purser presented to NGI by Mrs O’Neill, 1951; his papers and correspondence are held in National Library of Ireland. IF DIL OCIL

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Works
Drama
  • The Kingdom Makers, with lyrics by Mary O’Neill Devenport (Talbot/Unwin [1917]);
  • Buaid an Ultaig, Dráma Nua (1936).
Novels
  • Wind from the North (London: Jonathan Cape 1934), 339pp.;
  • Land Under England, foreword by AE [George Russell] (1935);
  • Day of Wrath (London: Gollancz 1936); Philip (1940);
  • Chosen by the Queen (London: Gollancz 1947) (iv), 5-247pp.
Miscellaneous
  • ed. Cath Bóinde, in Eriú 2 (1905); also Gaath Adtuaidh Tomas de Bhial Di[a]strigh. Unpublished, The Black Shore, novel.

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Criticism
  • M. Kelly Lynch, ‘The Smiling Public Man, Joseph O’Neill and his Works’, in Journal of Irish Literature, 12, 2 (May 1983) pp.3-27;
  • Cathy [?]Giffani, ‘Bibliography of Joseph O’Neill’, in Journal of Irish Literature (May 1987), pp.14-19;
  • Robert Hogan, ed., ‘Seosamh O’Neill Special Issue,’ Journal of Irish Literature, 1989;

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Commentary
Léon Ó Bróin
, Protestant Nationalists in Revolutionary Ireland (1985), writes: In 1932, just as the first government was going out of office, Joseph O’Neill, the Secretary of the Dept. of Education, admitted that he attainment of easy success [in Irish language revival] was not to be expected, though time was of the essence of the problem. While they were relying onthe English-speaking parts of the country to become Irish-speaking, the natural Irish-speaking parts, the Gaeltacht, continued to decline. Would the language be resuscitated by the schools be a full living speech with a creative cultural power? it was hard to believe it could be so. (p.208.)

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Benedict Kiely, ‘The Historical Novel’ in Augustine Martin, ed., The Genius of Irish Prose (Cork: Mercier 1985), pp.53-66: ‘It would be fascinating ... to study Joseph O’Neill’s novel about Norse Dublin, wind form the North, and to relate its method and content to his novel about Lord Essex, Chosen by the Queen, in which it would be almost seem that the novelist had read Ben Jonson until his head echoed with the rhythm of the time.’ (pp.65-66.)

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James Cahalan, Great Hatred, Little Room, The Irish Historical Novel (1983), In Wind from the North (1934) O’Neill emulated O’Grady’s romantic view of ancient Ireland, writing a first person account, in the style of a memoir, about the coming of the Danes. [110].

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References
Desmond Clarke, Ireland in Fiction [Pt. II] (Cork: Royal Carbery 1985); lists Wind from the North (1934); Day of Wrath (1936), and Chosen by the Queen (1947), the story of Essex and Elizabeth, as told by his secretary [compare method of Emily Lawless, In Ireland with Essex].

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Robert Hogan, ed., Dictionary of Irish Literature (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1979), entry by M. Kelly Lynch, citing trans. of ‘Caith Boinde’ in Eriu [1905]. Married Mary Devenport. Native speaker and habitual visitor to Aran Islands. Studied Irish under Kuno Meyer, and formed lasting friendship with Osborn Bergin. Permanent Sec. of Education 1923-1944. Published in Freeman’s Journal under pseud ‘Oisin’. The Kingdom-Maker, verse play (1917). Held literary evenings at 2, Kenilworth Square, Dublin. Wind from the North (1934), a novel about a Dublin clerk who is hit by a tram and wakes up in Viking Dublin; based on Jung’s doctrines. Won Harmsworth Prize of I. Acad. of Letters. Land under England and Day of Wrath are Wellesian, ‘exciting but unimpressive work[s] of imagination’ [DIL]. Philip (1940), historical fiction, set in Jerusalem at the time of Christ. ‘Flawless’ [DIL]. Contrib. historical sketches to The Dublin Mag. Chosen by the Queen is busy with Elizabethan atmosphere. Removed his household to France, and returned disappointed by expense. ‘Pages from the Journal of Edmund Shakespeare’, published serially in The Dublin Magazine, 1951-52, and uncompleted.

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Libraries holdings: BELFAST PUBLIC LIBRARY holds O’Neill, J., [?] Drunkard (n.d.); Land Under England (1935); [?] The Rock of Aranmore (1904); Wind from the North (1934); Day of Wrath (1936), and Philip (1940). BRITISH LIBRARY holds Joseph O’Neill, Gaath Adtuaidh Tomas de BhialDi[?]strigh.

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Notes
W. B. Yeats (1): became friends with the O’Neills and learned a lot about Irish schooling from them (see A. N. Jeffares, W B Yeats: A New Biography, London: Macmillan 1988, p.278).

W. B. Yeats (2): Yeats’s personal library, now held in the NLI (Dublin) contains a copy of Land Under England by Joseph O’Neill with 17 sheets of notes slipped in (MS 40,568 / 167; O’Shea 1505; Envelope no. 170.)

Frank O’Connor, My Father’s Son (1968), remarks that Osborn Bergin’s ‘greatest rancour was reserved for his old friend Joseph O’Neill married to a literary woman [...] The O’Neills dropped Bergin [...] and he resented it fiercely.’ (p. 92.)

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George Russell (as “AE””) prefaced Land Under England, ‘[...] how was I to know for all the torrent of picturesque speech and prodigality of humour, that, within that long head and long body, there were other creatures than those he exposed to me? ... How was I to know that he had it in him to imagine and write Land Under England?’ (Robert Greacen, Brief Encounters, 1991, p.30.)

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Adolf Mahr: the archaeologist Adolf Mahr came to Ireland in 1927 and served as curator [Keeper of Irish Antiquities] of the National Museum. He joined the Nazi Party in 1933 and was appointed Director of the National Museum in July 1934. In 1938 he wrote to Joseph O'Neill, Secretary of the Dept. of Education, announcing that he was resigning as leader of the Nazi party in Ireland, but was not replaced. He came under surveillance of the Irish Army some months later. During 1938-39 he made efforts to help Jews he knew to escape from Germany but otherwise supported anti-semitic policies. A trip to Germany in July 1939 resulted in their being stranded; imprisoned by the British Army in 1946; returned to Ireland but was refused admittance, possibly because (unlike others who were let in), he was a Protestant. He died in Germany. (See interview-article with Gerry Mullins, author of Dublin's No. 1 Nazi, in Books Ireland, March 2007, pp.37-38; also Cathal O'Shannon, Ireland's Nazis, an RTÉ documentary.)

Francis Stuart: A correspondence between Stuart and O’Neill is among papers in the National Library of Ireland.

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